Humbled in Hankar
Recently I entered a creative travel writing competition where I had to write about A Local Encounter I Will Never Forget. There has been so many of these instances during my travels but there is one that sticks out. I hope I can take you there with me so you get an idea of what it was like.
The thin dry air scrapes at my raspy throat as I inhale with each step. I lift my heavy legs and blistered toes until I finally reach the ridge above North Hanker Village. I stop to catch my breath and admire the dramatic views of glacier capped Mountains which tower 7000 meters above me. I unclasp my backpack straps across my front and feel instantly relieved when I release the weight from my shoulders. The elaborately detailed mani wall built over the past centuries by Buddhist monks draw my attention as I perch on a rock.
I take a swig from my drink bottle and feel the cool liquid soothe my throat. Water never tasted so good. An elderly local lady hunched over with tattered sandals and a woven basket full of apricots strapped to her back appears on my right. She rushes pass me with a smile and soon vanishes in the distance. I giggle to myself as I look down at my expensive North Face hiking shoes, hiking poles and ergonomically designed backpack.
I cast an eye in the near distance and see a Ladakhi woman ploughing the lush green wheat fields and continue on. My mind drifts back to the past three days hiking the Himalayas of North India and wonder how I am going to make it over the upcoming 5300 meter pass.
Upon arriving at the stone house, the Ladakhi woman shouts “julley!” (hello/welcome). She drops her ploughing tool and strides towards me with a big warm smile and shows me to my room. Shortly, I hear children’s laughter and the woman’s 10-year old daughter and 8-year-old son skip home in bare feet from school. They were excited to see guests “julley, julley, julley!” they squeal.
I turn to the mother “do you know where I can please wash some clothes?” The woman looks at me blankly. “Um, water, clothes?” I rephrase and enact a wringing motion with my jacket. The woman smiles, nods, walks me outside and points to a water pump about 500 meters away from the house.
The evening rolls around and I enter the living room. The heat from the fireplace instantly comforts me and makes me feel at home. The girl’s left arm wraps around her 6-month old baby brother whilst she adds donkey dung to the fire and stirs the clay pot with her right arm. My stomach suddenly drops as she flings the baby over her back and wraps a sheet over him, creating a baby carrier. She ties the straps across her front and resumes what she was doing.
I sit together with the Ladakhi family on the thick colourful wool mat, accompanied with a generous serving of dhal baht, fresh curd and a cup of spicy masala tea. I savour every moment and feel humbled with how these people lead such simple yet happy lives. A life far from materialistic belongings, road access, running water and technology. But a life that feels so much richer.
This is a local encounter I’ll never forget.